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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 06 February 2019

Agenda: Brexit (Preparations), Portfolio Question Time, Salmon Farming, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Scottish Powerchair Football Association


Contents


Parliamentary Bureau Motions

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is consideration of Parliamentary Bureau motion S5M-15723, on the establishment of a committee.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament shall establish a committee of the Parliament as follows:

Name of Committee: Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints

Remit: To consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about Alex Salmond, former First Minister, considered under the Scottish Government’s “Handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers” procedure and actions in relation to the Scottish Ministerial Code.

Duration: Until the Committee concludes its inquiry.

Number of members: 9

Convenership: The Convener will be a member of the Scottish National Party and the Deputy Convener will be a member of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

Membership: Alasdair Allan, Jackie Baillie, Donald Cameron, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Angela Constance, Linda Fabiani, Alison Johnstone, Margaret Mitchell, Maureen Watt.—[Graeme Dey]

The Presiding Officer

Do any members wish to speak on the motion?

17:01  

Annie Wells (Glasgow) (Con)

We support the motion to establish a committee on the Scottish Government’s handling of the harassment complaints, and we respect the rules of the Scottish Parliament that determine the number of MSPs from each party on the committee and the rotating selection of the convener under the d’Hondt formula. We are also confident that all the MSPs who have been selected will seek to scrutinise the decisions that were made in this matter and provide recommendations on a way forward.

We do, however, continue to have concerns about the fact that the convener of the committee will be selected from the Scottish National Party. I wish to emphasise that that is no reflection on the SNP member who may be nominated for the post of convener, but there is a clear public interest in ensuring that the committee both is, and is seen to be, impartial. There is no getting round the fact that that will be more difficult to achieve, in this very particular circumstance, if the convener is from the same party as the Government.

Although we will support the motion this evening, we are disappointed that the SNP did not, of its own volition, choose to stand aside on this occasion. We continue to encourage the SNP to reflect further and to offer the convenership to an Opposition party. That, in our judgment, is the right thing to do.

17:03  

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

The Scottish Labour Party supports the creation of a committee to look into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints; indeed, we called for it at the Parliamentary Bureau. We support the remit of the committee and fed into the wording of that. We are content with the proposed number of members to sit on the committee.

However, such is the nature of the subject matter that the committee will deal with that it is essential for the standing of this Parliament that we get it right. The committee will deal with the actions or inactions of the most powerful politician in Scotland, the First Minister, and some of her key advisers in relation to complaints about the conduct of the previous most powerful politician in the country when he was in office.

All eyes are on this Parliament in relation to how the inquiry will be conducted. Can the Parliament be trusted to do things openly and transparently in the national interest? This is a big test for us all. It is vital that any committee is not compromised before its work begins and that there is no perception of in-built bias.

We fully understand that the Parliament operates the d’Hondt principle to allocate speaking times, committee places and so on. According to the convention, the next committee to be formed is meant to be convened by an SNP member. That is how the system works in normal times. These are not normal times. Scottish Labour has serious concerns about the damage to the reputation of this Parliament if such an important committee, which will look at such serious allegations against the most senior politicians in this country, is convened by a member of their own party. We made that clear at the bureau.

This is not an attempt to block an inquiry. It is a call for this Parliament to do the right thing. We lodged an amendment to the motion to ensure that an Opposition member would convene the committee, but it was not selected by the Presiding Officer.

Before Christmas, Professor Alison Britton’s report to this Parliament on the conduct of independent reviews said that

“the process for the selection of members should be as independent of the subject ... under review, as possible”

and the appointees should have

“no perceived conflict of interest which may raise doubts on impartiality and independence.”

Although this is not an independent review, those words are prescient and they should not be ignored.

We ask the Government to withdraw its motion and return with a proposal for a non-Government convener. Otherwise, we will vote tonight against the terms on which the committee is being established.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. I call Graeme Dey to respond on behalf of the Government.

17:06  

The Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans (Graeme Dey)

Over the past several weeks, business managers have discussed every aspect of the proposed committee at the Parliamentary Bureau and agreed the motion on behalf of their parties. A few moments ago, when I moved the motion, I of course did so on behalf of the bureau. However, speaking as the minister for parliamentary business, Presiding Officer, I want to acknowledge and welcome the considered and constructive approach that characterised those deliberations, which were chaired by you.

The matter of the convenership was among the matters that were discussed, and I proposed that the SNP would remove itself from the nomination for the deputy convenership, which we were also due to receive under the d’Hondt allocation. Beyond that, we took the decision to nominate four hugely experienced and highly respected parliamentarians to the committee. Both approaches were decided upon before any questions were raised by other parties—a clear indication of the importance that we place on the committee and the work that it will undertake on behalf of the Parliament.

Further evidence of that is to be found in the fact that, when the committee meets, it is our intention to nominate to the role of convener Linda Fabiani, who, I believe, should have the confidence and respect of all parties in this Parliament. The unprecedented decision to nominate a Deputy Presiding Officer to such a role is one that I had hoped other parties would—and I know that some do—recognise as pointing the way for the work of the committee to be carried out in an appropriate, non-partisan way.

The Presiding Officer

Thank you. The vote on the motion will be taken at decision time.

The next item of business is consideration of four Parliamentary Bureau motions. I ask Graeme Dey, on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau, to move motions S5M-15729 to S5M-15731, on the approval of Scottish statutory instruments, and motion S5M-15732, on approval of the draft Scottish social security charter.

Motions moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland Housing and Property Chamber (Incidental Provisions) Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Supplemental Provision) Order 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 (Modification of the Repairing Standard) Regulations 2019 [draft] be approved.

That the Parliament agrees that the Scottish Social Security Charter [draft] be approved.—[Graeme Dey]